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  • Sinusitis is an inflammation (swelling) of the lining of your sinuses. Sinuses are hollow spaces inside the skull that are located behind the bones of your forehead, cheeks, and eyes. They are lined by mucous membranes that contain cilia (small hairs). Cilia helps mucus drain into the nose through small openings called ostia. With sinusitis, the ostia may be blocked or the cilia may not be working properly, preventing mucus from draining properly. Germs, such as bacteria and viruses, grow in the mucus causing an infection. Sinusitis may be acute, subacute, chronic, or recurrent. Acute sinusitis signs and symptoms last less than four weeks. Subacute sinusitis lasts from four to 12 weeks, while chronic sinusitis lasts longer than 12 weeks. Recurrent sinusitis happens when you have three or more episodes of acute sinusitis in one year. Sinusitis usually starts during or just after a cold. Sinusitis may also be caused by diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, and infections near your sinuses, such as an ear or gum infection. Problems with the structure of your sinuses or nose, such as polyps (growths), and allergies may also cause sinusitis.
    Picture of a normal nose
  • Sinusitis is diagnosed based on symptoms present and how long you have had them. Sinusitis is usually considered when symptoms have not improved after seven days. You may feel pain, pressure, or swelling around the forehead, cheeks, or eyes. You may have a headache or face pain that is worse when you lean forward, fever, chills, or other cold symptoms. Discharge from your nose may be thick and yellow or green-colored. You may also have a dry cough or tooth pain. You may have an endoscopy, culture, computerized tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or x-rays of the sinuses to diagnose sinusitis. Treatment includes antibiotic medicines to fight infection, and medicines to treat fever and headache. Sinus surgery may be done if the sinusitis does not improve with medicines or you have an obstruction. Diagnosing and treating sinusitis as soon as possible may relieve your symptoms and improve your quality of life.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


Treatment for sinusitis may cause unpleasant side effects. Some medications may cause nausea (upset stomach), vomiting (throwing up), or diarrhea (loose stools). You may also have an allergic reaction to an antibiotic. Left untreated, acute sinusitis may lead to chronic sinusitis. Germs causing your sinusitis, such as bacteria, may spread to other parts of your body. This may lead to meningitis or cause an abscess (pus) to form inside the skull, brain, or around the eyes. Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Ask your caregiver if you are worried or have questions about your sinusitis, care, or treatment.


Informed consent:

A consent form is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.


An IV (intravenous) is a small tube placed in your vein that is used to give you medicine or liquids.


You may need any of the following:

  • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to help treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.
  • Decongestant: A decongestant is medicine that relieves congestion, such as that of mucus membranes. It should not be used for longer than three days.
  • Medicines to treat pain, swelling, or fever: These medicines are safe for most people to use. However, they can cause serious problems when used by people with certain medical conditions. Tell caregivers if you have liver or kidney disease or a history of bleeding in your stomach.
  • Steroids: This medicine may be given to decrease inflammation.


You may need any of the following:

  • Culture: This is a test that may help caregivers learn which type of germ is causing your sinus infection. A sample of the cells from the mucus discharge of your nose may be sent to a lab for tests.
  • Endoscopy: This test uses a scope to see the inside of your sinuses. A scope is usually made of a long, bendable tube with a light on the end of it. A camera may be hooked to the scope to take pictures. During an endoscopy, caregivers may look into your nose where the sinuses drain. Caregivers will look for polyps, tumors, and any other condition that may be causing your sinusitis. Samples may be taken from the inside of your sinuses and sent to a lab for tests.
  • Imaging tests:
    • Computerized tomography scan: This test is also called a CT scan. A special x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your sinuses. Dye may be given before the pictures are taken. The dye may help sinus disease, a structure problem, or other problems, such as polyps, show up better in the pictures. Tell your caregiver if you are allergic to shellfish (lobster, crab, or shrimp), as you may also be allergic to this dye.
    • Magnetic resonance imaging scan: This test is called an MRI scan. During the MRI, pictures are taken of your sinuses. An MRI may also be taken of your nose, face, and skull. You will need to lie still during a MRI. Never enter the MRI room with an oxygen tank, watch, or any other metal objects. This can cause serious injury.
    • Ultrasound: This is a test that uses sound waves to look inside your nose and sinus area. Pictures are shown on a TV-like screen. Your caregiver may do an ultrasound to better see your sinuses and look for an infection.
    • X-rays: You may need to have x-rays of your nose, face, and sinuses taken. This will help your caregiver know if you have problems in any of these areas. You may need more than one x-ray.
  • Sinus puncture: A needle may be inserted into your sinuses to get fluid and tissue samples. This may show what kind of germ is infecting your sinuses. The fluid and tissue samples will be sent to a lab for tests.
  • Other tests: You may have blood or other tests, such as a sweat test, if you have chronic sinusitis. These tests may be used to check for an immune system problem or a genetic problem, such as cystic fibrosis.

Treatment options:

  • Functional endoscopic sinus surgery: This surgery uses an endoscope, which is a long, bendable tube with a light and video camera at the end. Functional endoscopic sinus surgery (FESS) may be done if your sinusitis does not respond to medicine. Fungi, polyps, tumors, or damaged tissue may be removed from your sinuses to improve mucus drainage. Ask your caregiver for more information about FESS.
  • Gum and tooth problems: Problems with your gums and teeth may be treated by another caregiver, called a dentist.
  • Steam inhalation: Inhaling steam from a vaporizer or a warm cup of water may help you breathe easier and loosen dry mucus.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Sinusitis (Inpatient Care)

Associated drugs

Micromedex® Care Notes

Symptoms and treatments

Mayo Clinic Reference